Commentary Magazine


Topic: benevolent dentist

No. Not That.

There are times when I am deeply grateful that CONTENTIONS stopped hosting comments. I do not think I could handle the people who would respond to this post. Because inevitably there will be some who insist that something can be art when it is simply horrible. Let them take their comments elsewhere!

I am speaking, of course, about a monstrosity that has appeared in Copenhagen. A model of the entrance to Auschwitz, complete with a little train car, made out of gold — gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims. See for yourself. Maybe someone will say it is a hoax and relieve us of the notion.

I do not know what the artist thinks about Nazism, about Judaism, about anti-Semitism, about violence, or about art. I do not care. According to Haaretz‘s captions, he put a Rolex watch in the tower, to hint at Switzerland’s complicity. I just don’t care. To me this is worse than political art, worse than feces-laden art, worse than almost anything called art. If art is meant to be a human thing, what can we say to an artist who does not seem to realize that we still count among the living the victims who passed through those gates? That every gram of gold that he touched may yet belong to someone? That it was extracted not with novocaine in a benevolent dentist’s office, but there, and then, and in that way?

Do not get me wrong. I do not believe the Holocaust is a “sacred” thing, that it is a black hole, an ultimate or absolute that cannot be compared with anything else, or that Jewish or Western identity should be built around it. The crime of this artist is not sacrilege but something else for which I do not have adequate words. Artistic inhumanity, perhaps. I just cannot understand what he is thinking, what the curators are thinking, what the backers for the gallery are thinking. And please, do not explain it to me.

There are times when I am deeply grateful that CONTENTIONS stopped hosting comments. I do not think I could handle the people who would respond to this post. Because inevitably there will be some who insist that something can be art when it is simply horrible. Let them take their comments elsewhere!

I am speaking, of course, about a monstrosity that has appeared in Copenhagen. A model of the entrance to Auschwitz, complete with a little train car, made out of gold — gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims. See for yourself. Maybe someone will say it is a hoax and relieve us of the notion.

I do not know what the artist thinks about Nazism, about Judaism, about anti-Semitism, about violence, or about art. I do not care. According to Haaretz‘s captions, he put a Rolex watch in the tower, to hint at Switzerland’s complicity. I just don’t care. To me this is worse than political art, worse than feces-laden art, worse than almost anything called art. If art is meant to be a human thing, what can we say to an artist who does not seem to realize that we still count among the living the victims who passed through those gates? That every gram of gold that he touched may yet belong to someone? That it was extracted not with novocaine in a benevolent dentist’s office, but there, and then, and in that way?

Do not get me wrong. I do not believe the Holocaust is a “sacred” thing, that it is a black hole, an ultimate or absolute that cannot be compared with anything else, or that Jewish or Western identity should be built around it. The crime of this artist is not sacrilege but something else for which I do not have adequate words. Artistic inhumanity, perhaps. I just cannot understand what he is thinking, what the curators are thinking, what the backers for the gallery are thinking. And please, do not explain it to me.

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